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Are Carbs Bad for You? Facts vs. Fiction

Are Carbs Bad for You? Facts vs. Fiction

We’ve all heard it before: “Stay away from carbs if you want to lose weight” and “carbs make you fat.” But are these statements true? Let’s take a look into why carbs have such a bad reputation and what you can eat.

Are carbs really bad for you?

It is time to lay this myth to rest: No, carbs are not bad for us. In fact, we need carbs just as much as we need other macronutrients such as proteins and fat. The human brain and body requires glucose (a form of sugar) to function properly.

When we suddenly deprive our body of carbs, we can experience hypoglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can range from tiredness and irritability to fainting. This is why low-carb diets can make people feel cranky.

However, too many carbs can be bad. Simple sugars and refined carbs are the culprits for many diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and obesity. These are the carbs that should be avoided or consumed sparingly. Instead, opt for complex and unrefined carbs. These contain necessary sugars, fiber, protein, and vitamins.

How to Lose Water Weight in a Day

Do carbs make you fat?

So, we have established that carbs are not entirely bad. But can they still make you fat? Unfortunately, the answer is still yes. However, before you cut out all carbs from your diet, it is important to remember that even too much protein can cause weight gain. When it comes to dieting and weight management, it boils down to watching your portions.

If you have ever tried a low-carb diet, such as the keto diet, you may have noticed how quickly you dropped pounds in just a week or two. While it is definitely motivating, it actually takes much longer to lose body fat. This initial weight loss from cutting out carbs is largely due to water weight.

Glycogen, the stored form of glucose, is responsible for this. Because glycogen is a large molecule, each gram can hold 3 grams of water. By using up free glucose and stored glycogen, you are also reducing the amount of water your body soaks up.

Unfortunately, once you stop the low-carb diet and eat normally again, you easily regain this water weight. This is one of the reasons why many dieters get frustrated with fad diets and end up yoyo dieting.

In addition, if you are sedentary but eat a lot of carbs (or any food for that matter), you will end up with both a calorie and carbohydrate surplus. Eating carbohydrates causes blood sugar to rise. This will trigger the release of insulin. Insulin tells the muscle and fat cells to absorb the extra glucose. Over time, this causes weight gain and fat accumulation.

Are there good carbs?

Fortunately, if you are a “carboholic,” you can have your cake and eat it too (figuratively, of course). Complex carbs are perfect for a well-balanced diet. There are plenty of options available on the market today, so you’ll never get bored with your diet.

List of good and complex carbohydrate sources:

  • Brown or red rice
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Protein-rich pasta
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Oatmeal (old-fashioned is better than instant or quick oats)
  • Quinoa
  • Adlai

In addition, you should beware of seemingly healthy sources of carbs. These include breakfast cereals, granola, and dried fruit. Oftentimes, they are sugar-coated or have been processed, decreasing their nutritional value. Always take time to check the nutrition label and portion sizes to avoid unwanted weight gain.

How much do I need?

As a general rule of thumb, the more you do, the more carbohydrates you need. For professional athletes, 3 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight should be eaten throughout the day. For example, a 70-kg male athlete should consume up to 840 grams of carbs in a day. One cup of white rice contains approximately 45 grams of carbs. This means an athlete would need up to 19 cups of rice per day!

However, since most of us are not athletes, this number is much lower. The recommended amount needed per day will depend on a variety of factors. These include your age, sex, BMI, activity level, and any dietary restrictions.

Generally, aim for about 50 to 60% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. For example, if you require 2000 calories per day, 1000 to 1200 calories should come from carbs. Since carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, this translates to 250 to 300 grams per day. That is approximately 5 to 6 cups of rice.

If you have insulin resistance or diabetes, your doctor may recommend a lower-carb diet. Talk to a doctor or registered dietitian to know more about special dietary needs.

How to Read Food Labels for Healthy Eating

Key takeaways

In summary, carbohydrates are a necessary part of everyone’s diet. The key is to determine how much you need to eat in a day in order to prevent storing excess glucose as fat. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine your individual dietary needs.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


BMR Calculator

Use our calorie-intake calculator to determine your daily caloric needs based on your height, weight, age, and activity level.



Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Excessive sugar intake linked with unhealthy fat deposits https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200629120243.htm Accessed February 1, 2021

How The Body Metabolizes Sugar https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/sugar-metabolism.html Accessed February 1, 2021

Carbohydrates — Good or Bad for You? https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/carbohydrates–good-or-bad-for-you Accessed February 1, 2021

The truth about carbs https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/why-we-need-to-eat-carbs/ Accessed February 1, 2021

Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/overview-of-nutrition/carbohydrates,-proteins,-and-fats?redirectid=2 Accessed February 1, 2021

Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275410886_Relationship_between_muscle_water_and_glycogen_recovery_after_prolonged_exercise_in_the_heat_in_humans Accessed January 1, 2021

Biochemistry, Glycolysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482303/ Accessed February 1, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Feb 02